Washington's most impactful players of 2020: Gibson, McKissic


The Washington Football Team's 2020 season was a memorable one filled with impactful performances. Over the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Ryan Homler will take a look at 10 players who provided the biggest impact. Next up: Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

During the 2020 offseason, one thing that head coach Ron Rivera and his staff prioritized during free agency and the draft was versatility, particularly on offense.

And no two players were better examples of that in 2020 than Washington's pair of running backs: Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

When Washington drafted Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, his immediate fit in the offense wasn't exactly clear. Gibson had been mainly a wide receiver at Memphis (he had just 33 carries to his name), but Washington insisted he was a running back.

However, in early August, third-year veteran Derrius Guice was released. Then, just a few days before final roster cuts, Rivera made the decision to release future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. The move was slightly shocking at the time, but Gibson had shown so much promise during camp that Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner were ready to make him the lead back.

Gibson taking that lead role paved the way for free agent signing J.D. McKissic to become the team's main pass-catching back. While it took a few weeks to get the offense rolling, both Gibson and McKissic quickly became vital pieces of Washington's offense.

Gibson carried the ball just 170 times as a rookie but still managed to run for nearly 800 yards. The third-round pick became a touchdown-machine, too, as his 11 scores were the most by any Washington rookie since Alfred Morris in 2012.

You can't mention Gibson's impressive rookie season without his three-touchdown outing against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, either, where the running back showed just a flash of his potential down the line.

Additionally, the former Memphis star wasn't utilized in the passing game as much as originally thought, but Gibson still finished the season with 36 receptions and 247 receiving yards, putting him over 1,000 scrimmage yards as a rookie.

Gibson's lack of receptions was not truly a testament to him, though, as much as it was the emergence of McKissic. The veteran running back hauled in 80 (!!) receptions in 2020, the most of any running back in the NFL not named Alvin Kamara.

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To put that into perspective, McKissic's previous career-high in receptions was 34. He more than doubled that mark in his first year with Washington.

While McKissic only found the end zone three times in 2020, he was arguably Washington's biggest receiving threat outside of Terry McLaurin. Washington will certainly be in the market to upgrade at wideout this offseason, but McKissic's role as a pass-catching running back shouldn't diminish, either.

The beauty of Washington's running back tandem is that both Gibson and McKissic have the ability to do each other's main job, too. McKissic proved he can run the ball between the tackles when need be, while Gibson already has the skill set to be an excellent pass-catching back down the line.

At times in 2020, opponents knew that when Gibson was in the game Washington was likely going to run but when McKissic checked in, it was likely going to be a pass play. In 2021, don't expect that to be the case.

When Guice and Peterson were cut within a month span, many wondered how much of an impact Washington's running backs would have in 2020. Well, both Gibson and McKissic proved that the offense was just as good, if not better, without them.

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